PENANG. Once again, the resounding sound of gong and Sape filled the Church of Divine Mercy, Sg. Ara, Penang (CDM) on the 6th May. This is the second time, the church celebrated the Pesta Kaamatan, Gawai & Kesyukuran, in a joyful celebration that united all parishioners from various races and cultural backgrounds.
Led by the Bahasa Malaysia Apostolate members, the celebration commenced at 4.30 pm with the traditional bamboo dance of Sabah called the “Mogunatip”. This was followed by a dance around the “Ranyai” (known as the Tree of Life by the Iban community in Sarawak). Parish Priest, Fr. Martin Arlando was then given the honor to shoot at a target with a blowpipe, known in Sabah and Sarawak as the “Sumpit” to officiate the beginning of the celebration. This traditional tool of the native people was used for hunting in the old days. Approximately 50 parishioners participated in the opening ceremony.
At the end of the evening mass, three different ethnic groups from East Malaysia performed beautiful dances in front of the altar. In their beautiful traditional costumes, the Sabahans performed the Sumazau; the Sarawakians performed the Ngajat and the Indonesians performed the Batak dance. One parishioner who witnessed the dances said that she was so touched by the unity shown by the different ethnic groups that she could not help but shed tears of joy.
After the mass, the parishioners gathered at the church basement for a thanksgiving dinner. Almost everyone who were present donned the traditional costumes of Sabah & Sarawak, regardless of their races, this included even Fr. Martin himself. Traditional drinks such as ‘Tapai ‘ (Rice Wine) were served in a ‘Tajau‘ (jar) and consumed using straw directly from it. There was also the ‘misompuru’, which are several bamboo cups tied up together on a bamboo rod. It was used to serve ‘lihing’ or a type of rice wine so that many people can consume the drink at the same time. This method was commonly used by Sabahans in the olden days as there were no cups then.
The celebration was made even more joyous when parishioners from Church of Risen Christ, Air Itam and St Joseph, Juru performed their own traditional dances. Also joining the celebration were four Capuchin brothers from the Seminary who performed their Sumazau dance. The atmosphere was truly merry as the dances reminded the parishioners of their culture back home.
One parishioner, Peter Chow, who had come to the festival every year noticed that the participation of fellow church-goers had increased and was impressed with the added involvement of various parishioners of local races such as the Chinese and Indians. “This portrays good kinship and camaraderie among the people of our faith”, he added.
The highlight of the dinner was the group dance to the song “Sayang Kinabalu” where parishioners, young and old, were pulled into a big circle to dance and sing along to this famous song. There were also lucky draws and many walked home with not only a contented heart but with full hands full of prizes as well.
The thanksgiving dinner ended at around 10.30 pm. Organizing Chairlady, Sylvia Subuk expressed her deepest gratitude to Fr. Martin on behalf of the BM Apostolate. His encouragement and support helped make the event a reality and huge success. Sylvia also commented that she was very touched by the cooperation and enthusiasm among the BM Apostolate members who worked tirelessly for weeks to prepare for the celebration. Many even contributed cash and gifts for the decorations and lucky draws.
Parishioner, Anthonysamy, congratulated the organizer for a successful event and was very happy to see that a small community can stand so united despite being far away from home.
Pesta Kaamatan in Sabah and Gawai Dayak in Sarawak and West Kalimantan are celebrated each year in May and June to give thanks to God for a good harvest. Just as we are Catholics, wherever we may travel, we will never forget our cultural traditions. That is how it should be, for wherever the community goes, traditions should never be forgotten but should be kept alive and shown to the younger generations to remind them of their heritage.
5th August, 2017.